The Seeing Place Theater on off Broadway, New York City – Planning a trip to NYC this year? Now is the time to check out the “off Broadway” theater scene too. The Seeing Place Theater is one of our recommendations that will provide a great theatrical experience for the audience. I had an opportunity to ask Managing Director, Erin Cronican, some questions about their production company, their five year anniversary theme: Loss: The Awakening of people, and the plays they are running this upcoming year.
Who came up with the initial idea of “organic” theater and why?
The idea of organically driven theater (or theater that is alive from moment to moment rather than being planned) has been around in the US since the late 1920s to early 1930s and was most famously introduced to audiences by The Group Theatre. I’m no scholar on The Group or their teachings, so I can’t really comment on why the movement came about. But I CAN talk about why our theater company believes so strongly in this kind of work. J
Many times in my career I have worked with directors who’ve staged (or “blocked”) a play word by word, so that the actors movements were choreographed specifically and precisely, with no ability to change based on what may be going on in the moment. For example, a director might say, “When you say this line, you have to start crying.” That might make for an exciting moment, if the actor can come to that emotion consistently. But what if one night the emotion doesn’t come? The result can be faked tears with no sense of real emotion, or forced emotions that are pushed to the limits of believability. As an actor, I became adept at taking a director’s vision and somehow trying to make it seem like it came from me naturally. And that’s how most theater exists: set a show so that it’s exactly the same from night to night, so that all audiences get the exact same performance.
But I have a strong belief that theater should not be presented that way; audiences should see a performance be organically alive rather than being REPRESENTED. Using the example of crying above, I think it’s far more exciting to see an actor deal with being upset in the moment, with only the most pure responses being revealed. Will they cry? Laugh? Become stoic? There are so many different ways that a person expresses this level of emotion, and if you let an actor arrive at this organically, you can see a REAL response in the moment rather than a manufactured response that is the same from night to night.
When audiences see something that is organic, they feel like they are seeing a kind of truth, and a very special one-of-a-kind performance that only live theater (or live music, among others) can provide. And it’s way more fun and creative as an actor, because I’m called upon to be creative and fresh every single moment, with no chance of things becoming stale. Sure, the actor cannot guarantee what is going to happen next, and there is some risk in that. But with solid, organically-driven rehearsal and a supportive, trained ensemble this kind of risk is thrilling for the actors and the audience.
You’re celebrating your five year anniversary; tell me about the journey the past five years, getting the production company started, how it’s moved along, and the people that support it.
Oh my gosh, the journey! We started without the intention of forming a company. We initially talked about producing a play but we didn’t end up getting the rights and gave up the idea. Then, our artistic
director Brandon Walker did a reading of a play on his birthday, and the cast was so strong that it was decided we would try to produce it. We got the rights, and after the success of the show, decided to formally create the company. We count our official anniversary as August of 2009.
Our ensemble has shifted quite a bit since the start – in fact, only Brandon and I (as the Managing Director) have been here since the beginning. At the beginning, actors, directors and designers would commit production by production. As we’ve grown, we’ve discovered that having a consistent ensemble, and one that builds over time, is the best way to achieve the things we want to achieve as a company. Now, we attract actors who stay with our company for a year or more, which is really exciting. As our reputation grows and salary levels increase, it’ll be even easier to maintain a consistent group of artists.
As far as our productions, we started our first 2 seasons with 3 plays each season, and since then have grown to 5-6 play seasons. Many times we run play in rotating repertory, where we pair two plays that fit together within a theme. In Season 3 we used the same actors and paired Harold Pinter’s THE LOVER with John Patrick Shanley’s DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA (for which we were nominated for a NY Innovative Theater Award) In Season 4 we produced HAMLET and ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, where all 12 actors reprised their roles from HAMLET in Tom Stoppard’s existentialist treatise on Shakespeare’s classic play. We rotated the plays night to night so that audiences could have a better understanding of each play by seeing its literary partner. It was wildly successful and exciting for both our patrons and our artists.
Right now we’re working on two plays that will be running in repertory on the same evening: the 1st New York revival of DYING CITY by Christopher Shinn and TWO ROOMS by Lee Blessing. This time we are NOT duplicating the actors; when audiences see two different groups of actors, the global theme of the stories will have a greater impact on our audiences. The plays both center on wives and how they handle the grief of losing their husbands overseas in military-political deaths. What is similar about their situations? What’s different? And how have things changed (or not) in the 20 years between the writing of each play? We’re very passionate about these stories and cannot wait to provoke thoughtful conversation with our audiences.
You chose the five year anniversary theme: Loss: The Awakening of people. What drove you or what passions caused you and your company to come up with this theme? Personal life experience? Explain the importance of “the awakening of people” to me in your words. (btw great theme!)
As we started to look at the plays we were considering for the year, we noticed that a number of them involved a death of great impact. I remember back to when my father died in early 2006, and his wake was the first time that I spent any length of time with my uncle, my father’s kids from his first marriage, and my father’s workmates. We all united around one thing – our love for my father – and for a day, memories were shared, relationships built, promises made, and new possibilities opened up. I gained a great amount of humanity and healing on that day.
In the plays we were considering for the season, each death had a far-reaching impact, even grander than the impact that my father’s death had on me. THE LARAMIE PROJECT is a play about a community dealing with the murder of Matthew Shepard, and the impact of that death shaped hate-crime laws around the country. I started to wonder – if we can use the themes of each story to engage and unite our audience in a conversation about the impact of each death – can the healing transcend the plays into the lives of our immediate society? To me, that’s the most exciting thing about producing live theater – being able to show people their humanity by sharing our work.
Incidentally, that’s how we came up with our name. The Seeing Place is a direct translation of the Greek word for theatre (theatron means “the seeing place” – the place we go to understand ourselves.)
How did you pick the shows?
We start with a list of plays that we think would be good for our ensemble. Then we look to see if a theme emerges that we would be passionate about building a season around. We try to balance our season with a few different kinds of plays (classical, contemporary, Americana, and new works) and we’re even considering branching out into actor-driven musicals. But the main thing that really shapes our season is the ability for our company to get the theatrical rights/licensing to be able to perform the plays. We get turned down for a good 85% of what we apply for, mostly because most playwrights (and their agents) hold out for Broadway to revive their plays rather than an indie theater. But this season we were lucky to receive a first NY revival of Pulitzer Prize finalist DYING CITY (since its premiere at Lincoln Center in 2007) plus the first major revival in more than 30 years of Pulitzer Prize Winner MEN IN WHITE. We’re pretty thrilled that we’ve been able to build such a impressive season as such a young company.
We aim to use as many of the same artists as possible, namely because working organically requires that a group of people speak the same artistic language. We have an ongoing ensemble that works together year-round. We like to have about 30 actors in the group, with all types (ages/genders/sensibilities) represented by 2-3 actors. Redundancy makes it possible for our actors to do other projects outside the company without having the leave the ensemble. However, in any group some attrition can be expected so several times a year we hold auditions to fill “holes” that might come up in our ensemble.
Our ensemble gets together every Monday. We provide workshops & master classes on the craft and the business, and build our acting ensemble via our private “salon” readings. From that ensemble we hold internal auditions for each main-stage production. Between our main-stage productions, developmental workshops of new works, and public staged readings, we do our best to provide enough acting roles in a season for our ensemble.
Where do you get your funding? The tickets are a deal! So, how do you stay afloat? How can somebody donate if they are interested?
We’re at an exciting transition point in our fundraising. Up until now, we’ve been completely privately funded. In addition to ticket sales, we’ve raised money through traditional fundraising campaigns (accepting cash/check/credit card donations) and fundraising galas (cover charge, cash bar, silent auctions, 50/50 raffles, etc.) We’ve also done more non-traditional campaigns, like crowdfunding (via Indiegogo) and hosting innovative events (like a rummage sale, and our ‘Industry Scramble’ networking events.) We also have a season subscriber base, and their subscriptions provide us with operating funds throughout the season.
This year we’re getting our 501c3 tax status, which means that people’s donations will now be tax deductible. (We are a non-profit theater, but in order to get a deduction, people currently have to donate via our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas – which takes an administrative fee for their service.) Having our own 501c3 status will allow us to apply for public and private grants from the state and federal government, as well as from private foundations. This is hugely exciting because we’ll be able to start building our fiscal health outside of our friends, family and audience base. As you noted, part of our mission is to bring quality and affordable theater to New York audiences – our tickets are just $12 a piece. So, the ability to be able to fundraise beyond our audiences is vital to our sustainable growth.
The best way to donate to The Seeing Place is to visit our Support Page where you can learn about all of the ways to help TSP.
If people are planning a trip the NYC, how can they reserve tickets?
Tickets are always available through out website SeeingPlaceTheater.com – they are also available at our box office on the day of performance.
We still have season tickets available- the full details are HERE
Email us at:
Twitter & Facebook: @TheSeeingPlace
We welcome any kind of support in donations
Category: Indie It Art, Film & Theatre